By Greg Bixby
Jack and Jim were the best of friends. So when Jim lost both his legs in a railroad accident, Jack did everything he could to help. At first, Jim was certain his career with the railroad was finished. Then the company gave him another job…as a signalman. His outpost was to be a lonely little stop, more than two hundred miles from anywhere. It was going to be lonely out there. Jack went along to be whatever help he could be on the new job.
In the beginning, Jack stuck around mostly for company. He swept out the little wooden shack, pumped water from the well, tended the garden, and made himself useful in all the ways legless Jim could not. There was a little trolley, a single seater that led from the shack to the signal tower. Jack pushed Jim on that trolley several times a day and stood there while Jim operated the big levers in sequence. Eventually, Jack got so familiar with Jim’s schedule that he began to walk out and operate the signal system himself.
Pretty soon, Jack began to take care of all the duties for the railroad, as well as the chores around the shack. There was a lot to be done, and a lot to remember. If a “point” needed to be adjusted down the line, Jack would listen for a passing engineer, flag him down, and give him a special key to make the adjustment. Daily responsibilities at the signal tower included working the levers that set the signals, as well as the tower controls that opened and closed the siding switches. There was a lot going on at the little outpost, and soon Jack was doing all the work. He never complained, it was the least he could do for his friend, Jim.
For more than nine years Jack kept house, pumped the water from the well, tended the garden, and trudged out to the signal tower each day to operate the heavy equipment. Then one day, Jack died. In all those years, Jack had never made one mistake. He never threw a switch incorrectly, never sided a car in error. There had not even been one narrow miss on the Port Elizabeth main line, all because of Jack. What makes this true story even more amazing is the fact that Jack was not a teenager at all. He was a baboon! If a baboon could be so trained, surely there is hope for discipling today’s teenagers.
What Is a Discipline?
The simplest meaning of the word disciple is a “learner” or “follower”.
Becoming a disciple incorporates both of these concepts. There has to be a communication of knowledge to begin the discipling process. Teaching our teens the basic information to live the Christian life is vital. Jesus said that we were His disciples if we would continue in His Word (John 8:31). How can a person continue in the Word of God if they have never been taught? The second aspect of learning the teachings of Jesus is to be able to relate those teachings to all of life.
There also has to be a communication of life to complete the discipling process. Being a follower alludes to the fact that someone is leading.
The second concept is the formation of character and value in young lives. Paul said that we should be imitators of him (1 Cor. 4:16 NIV). Showing our teens how to live the Christian life is also vital. This part of discipling is done by building quality relationships with young people and modeling the principles of Christian development.
We are not just teaching teens to know what we know, but to become what we are! Let’s focus in on how we might build quality relationships.
Essential of Quality Relationships
Be available and approachable. Do your best to be open and relaxed with your teens. Don’t let the abundance of planning and programming duties keep you from spending time with the kids. The best way to become more approachable is to be more relaxed around them. That comes with more and more personal experience.
Believe in them. Many of today’s youth are victimized by insecurity. They have a desperate need for someone to see beyond their surface problems and view something greater, their potential. Refuse to see the bad in them whenever possible. Your goal is to help them realize their hidden potentials.
Build self-esteem. Our society has placed too much emphasis on looks, wealth, and conformity, if you don’t have these, you are not important. Young people who are challenged to follow Christ struggle with the task of being in the world and not of it. Develop an attitude that edifies teens since they may not be getting it from their peers.
Be vulnerable. Young people are looking for real people with real problems who have found strength and guidance through their relationship with Christ. These are the role models that our kids need to see. They need to see the negative side of your life (problems and trials) and how you deal with it as much as they do the positive side. Observing your response to life’s difficulties can build stability in the young people you lead.
Love them unconditionally. Much of the love that teens are acquainted with has strings attached. They get love if they do a good job, get good grades, attend youth functions, or dress right. We need to offer them acceptance and love that is unconditional. They need to be accepted the way they are and where they are. If you can develop this, you will transform your personal presence into a place of refuge for them.
Meet them on their territory. The best learning takes place in real life situations. Before your teens believe many of the teachings you share with them, they will need to see you put them to work in your own daily living. It is easy to talk about Christian living while sitting in the church. Get yourself out into the real world and demonstrate to them the power of the truths you are sharing.
Learn to listen. The world is in short supply of good listeners. Good listening is selfless, patient, loving, supportive, kind and objective.
The level of worth you place on a young person is determined by the importance you place on his expressions and opinions. Begin listening to your youth, really listening! Encourage their expressions of faith, as well as their doubts. Allow them to be honest with you, this is the best way to take a look into their lives and assess their needs.
Be winsome. Genuine laughter, fun, excitement, enthusiasm, and plain joy with life are infectious. Learn to relax and enjoy life with your teens. It will be a soothing ointment for aching hearts and sullen spirits. This characteristic of winsomeness is a willingness to involve yourself in the joys and hurts of others. Don’t mistake it for an inborn charisma and be cheated out. Remember, a smile can break down many barriers.
Don’t give up. This type of quality relationship will not take place overnight. It will definitely take some time for us as youth leaders to change. It will take more time to implement it with the teens. Hang in there! You can do it! It just takes time!
The One and a Half Plan
This is a very easy way to begin your discipleship program. The One and A Half Plan will get you started down the road to building relationships. This is not very demanding, yet it will produce great results if you work it consistently. I highly recommend that you start with a simplified approach like this one:
a. 1 hour/week with one youth in discipleship (coke or meal)
b. 3 phone calls/week to kids in your group (15 min.)
c. 3 letters or notes/week to kids in your group (15 min.)
Seven contacts/week – 3 calls, 3 letters, 1 personal contact and you will have touched 365 kids and had 52 discipleship opportunities.
Some Practical Ideas
Since building relationships is so important to the effectiveness of the discipling process, here are a few ideas to get you started.
1. Learn their names.
2. Send out brief and encouraging correspondence.
3. Go out with them after your weekly meeting for a snack.
4. Have them come to your place.
5. Play a sport with them. (basketball, tennis, racquetball)
6. Follow through on those birthday invitations.
7. Go to some of their school activities. (debates, concerts, etc.)
8. Have lunch with your young people and their friends at school.
9. Pick them up and take them for a snack after school.
10. Attend music recitals.
11. Serve them in various ways.
12. Get to know the life of the schools in the area.
13. Take them along on errands. (driving time facilitates talk)
14. Help them with their homework.
15. Have a girls’ slumber party or a guys’ overnighter.
Modeling the Principles of Leadership
The Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ motto is: “If you’re going to talk the talk, then you have to walk the walk.” As youth leaders, that needs to be our motto, too. Wait a minute! This is supposed to tell me how to disciple others. Sounds like this is a course in overhauling the youth leader. Remember…discipleship starts with you.
We cannot forget that we have a responsibility to show youth how the Christian life works on a daily basis. If we are going to be a model of what youth are to follow in discipleship, then we must allow the Holy Spirit total control of our lives.
Let’s look at some character traits that ought to be specifically modeled for disciples. Galatians 5:22-23 gives us a good starting point.
Love – Romans 5:8 describes what love is really like. True love accepts people just as they are (While we were yet sinners). Then it offers itself to meet the needs of others (Christ died for us). This type of love must come from the depth of a person’s character. It is necessary for discipling teens.
Joy – Joy becomes the expression of celebration which empowers us to be Christian. Joy makes us strong, produces energy and cannot be self-created. The only source of joy is obedience. Those who have a daily personal relationship with Jesus will be able to exhibit this quality of life.
Peace – Peace is not merely the absence of conflict. It is the calm assurance that God is in control no matter what comes our way as Christians. This quality of life is shown when we face life realistically instead of trying to escape.
Patience – The best description of patience is a “godly putting up with.” This is not an easy trait to have. Teens have the ability to help you develop this trait. They can sure give you a lot to put up with!
Kindness – The idea of this trait is a goodness which is kind. The yoke of Christ does not chafe us. It fits just right. It is easy! We have the opportunity to be yoked with another to help make their way easier, just as Christ is yoked with us.
Goodness – Goodness is a balance word. While kindness is gentle and sweet, goodness is a strong word that demands accountability. As demonstrators of the character of Christ, we must have balance in our lives – kindness as well as strong goodness.
Faithfulness – In this context faithfulness denotes the quality of trustworthiness or fidelity. The word refers to reliability, How often we as discipliners desire that our students be reliable when we, ourselves, are not always reliable. This is a convicting word.
Gentleness – This word suggests gentle strength. The gentle person is the person who knows his or her strength, but submits that strength to Christ in a ministry of love and caring for others. The person who is gentle is also teachable. We are not only to be teachers in our discipling but continual learners also,
Self-control – This describes the inner strength by which a man takes hold of himself. It is this quality that keeps him from being swept along by wrong desires or impulses. Without this characteristic all of our teaching will be of little value. Allowing God to be in charge of our lives is what is meant by this quality.
Practical Application – We cannot have these qualities in our life without a vital, vibrant, living relationship with Jesus Christ. It is not an option to have an ongoing relationship with our Lord. It is an absolute necessity!
Possessing all these traits is important, but how they “flesh themselves out” is equally important. Being a model for youth requires that they have the chance to observe in us some consistency in the way we live out our own lives.
Paul summed it up for us in Philippians 4:9 when he said, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (NIV)
Here are some areas that we can model our faith to our kids, our disciples:
1. Personal prayer life: keeping open lines of communication with God.
2. Faithful worship: attending church and giving praise to Jesus.
3. Fellowship: with other adults to keep ourselves from burn out.
4. Bible study: feeding ourselves and not just “getting a message”.
5. Sharing our faith: with strangers because we genuinely care.
6. Family life: treat spouse with respect, be the best parent we can.
7. Quality of life: making His kingdom a priority over money and time.
8. Temperament: keep ours seasoned with positiveness & Christlikeness.
Don’t Be Overwhelmed
Caution must be exercised! We are not mass producing junior clones of ourselves. The whole weight of our kids’ success does not fall on our shoulders alone. We are simply exercising an influence that encourages young people to discover and fulfill the unique destiny God has appointed for them. The Holy Spirit is working through us and in them to cultivate the spiritual fruit He desires. Discipleship is a lifetime journey!
Section Two – Communicating the Knowledge
This section deals with the educational process of learning the teachings of Jesus. We need to keep in mind that there are several approaches that we can use. Don’t spend all your time simply dispensing information to the minds of fifteen year olds in hope of discipling them. Simply knowing the right thing to do does not ensure that it will be done. Use various ways to instill His teachings. Be creative in the educational process.
a. Content transmittal
b. Problem solving
c. Trial and error
d. Team work
e. Special projects
f. Case studies
While we do have a set of doctrinal truths to be transmitted to every new generation, this was never intended to be the primary method of discipling.
Basic Christian Disciplines
A. Bible Study & Scripture Memorization: Getting into the Word is one of the most important disciplines for being a follower of Christ. Jesus used it to resist temptation by turning to the scripture that He had committed to memory. Youth need the teaching, reproof, correction and the training that can be gathered from the scriptures.
B. Prayer: Surely the disciples noticed the high priority that Jesus placed on prayer. He went into the mountain to pray, He went out in a boat to escape the crowd to pray, He regularly went to the garden to talk to His Father. Youth need to learn not only the “ask anything” of prayer but also the “abide in me and I in you”. Consistent prayer will help us in our horizontal relationships with others as well as in our vertical relationship with our heavenly Father.
C. Sharing Faith: Jesus was daily meeting the needs of people and genuinely caring about them. This gave him many opportunities to share the good news of the kingdom of God. Youth need to develop that same care and compassion for people. As they do, doors for sharing their faith will open.
D. Fellowship: This may sound strange to be included with the basic Christian disciplines. We need to stress to our youth the importance of the church. The church is one of the best places to find Christian fellowship. I’m not talking about pizza, cokes or hot dogs. Lifting others up and the ministry of encouragement should be a priority during our gathering together at the house of God. Our church is an important place to fellowship with God, His Word, and His Body of believers.
Main Objectives for Discipleship
1. Develop good quality materials to instruct the youth.
2. Put youth into a relationship with a trained and growing leader. This helps youth by giving them a living example to follow.
3. Use discipleship material and leaders as means of helping youth become grounded in their personal Christian disciplines.
Two Keys for Discipleship
* The Material Itself Is Not the Top Priority *
If our material becomes the key focus, then our kids pick up the idea that they are going through a prescribed number of lessons. If the material becomes the priority, then your discipleship runs the risk of becoming just another program. It is supposed to be a lifelong journey!
* Help Your Youth Become Grounded In the Basic Disciplines *
Combine the materials with growing leaders to help establish youth in the necessary Christian habits. You can not keep them in discipleship groups forever. They may lose their materials or just cast them aside eventually. As they grow up you may lose contact with them. But if you can help them become disciplined in a few key areas, they will have the tools and the means to remain lifelong disciples.
More Areas of Growth
Here are some other areas that you could use in teaching a continuing discipleship training program.
* Acquire an appetite to go deeper in their relationship to Christ.
* Integrate Scriptural views and precepts into their lives.
* Rely on Jesus in all circumstances as a close and personal friend.
* Sense the complete reality of forgiveness.
* Clarify misunderstandings about doctrinal and moral issues.
* Be “real” with their Christian brothers and sisters.
* To work out conflicts with family members.
* To reach out to their non-Christian friends.
* To affirm their own worth, dignity, and beauty in Christ.
Targeting Your Discipleship Programs
Who should we disciple? One philosophy is that we should only work with a chosen few. Train the ones that are willing to show up to the in-depth study group. The most serious problem with that philosophy is its narrow scope. While it is true that everyone will not become a productive disciple, are you willing to accept responsibility for deciding who will?
Youth are at various levels of commitment:
a. Committed to the group, but not to salvation
b. Saved, but on the fringe of involvement
c. Involved in all activities but discipleship group
d. “Totally committed teen” (which are few and far between)
The overall goal is to have discipleship training for youth at every level of commitment. This definitely is a long-rang goal! Here are some steps to reach that goal:
1. Develop some materials for training your teens.
2. Start with a small proto-type group and a short-term timetable. (six – eight weeks)
3. Begin basic training for those who are at a high level commitment.
4. Use some of those from the high level group as leaders for expanding your program to other levels of commitment.
Summary of an Effective Ministry
* It is never accomplished by just one person. Train a team to help!
* It never happens fast. Concentrate on depth. It just takes time!
* It won’t all happen at the church. It takes real life settings!
* It won’t be effective without prayer. Bathe your ministry in prayer!
* It must be people oriented, not program oriented. Focus on the need!
The Ideal Discipleship Program
There is no such animal in existence!! Whenever we think we have it all put together, God will allow someone or something to help us discover we don’t. Do not be afraid to go to the bookstore and pick up some materials on discipleship. Use what you can, trash what you can’t. Just remember….The ideal discipleship program does not exist!
Final Thought… Don’t Make Excuses!
It is easy to excuse getting serious about your youth discipleship program. But one rarely hears a good one. You may say, ” If only I had staff, more money, better buildings, more youth, more mature youth, more education or training, or more committed parents”. None of these are really good reasons for not being serious about youth discipleship. All you need to do is…
Get on your knees and get started!
PS. With God’s help you can overcome any obstacle!
Excerpted from “1988 Youth workers’ Seminar Notebook”. By Greg Bixby.